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Dust off your binoculars because birds are on the move!

April 1, 2020

It’s that time of year when nature is on the move and sprouting across Minnesota. A good pair of binoculars can help you tune in to nature and observe up-close the plants, birds and other animals you see around your neighborhood. Whether you are dusting off your old pair of binoculars, borrowing or buying some, there are some issues and adjustments to keep in mind. In a short video, Dr. Rob Blair, an Extension wildlife specialist, lays out some things to help you choose and use your binoculars like a pro.

How much should you spend?

Binoculars run the gamut from cheap, almost throw-away pairs for less than $10, to top of the line pairs that can easily cost more than $1,000. Generally, the old adage “you get what you pay for” fits here—cheap binoculars are just that, cheap. But, even a cheap pair of binoculars will be superior to the naked eye, bringing nature closer. Better to have a cheap pair of binoculars than nothing, and having the equipment will allow you to develop basic binocular skills.

Get to know your binoculars

Every pair of binoculars is defined by two numbers: magnification and objective. Magnification is the “strength” of the binoculars; “8X” binoculars will bring an object 8 times closer, a “10X” will increase by a factor of 10. Objective describes the size of the opening; larger objectives will let in more light, smaller objectives will let in less light. These two numbers are independent, but work together. Binoculars with low magnification and large objective size will enable brighter, well focused images. High magnification with lower objective size will give a more magnified, but dark and blurry image. 8 X 40 is a common size for magnified but bright viewing.

Make sure you adjust them first

Everyone’s eyes are different, and you need to take some time to adjust and focus your binoculars the first time you use them, or when you change from one observer to another. In the video, Rob shows you how to adjust the fit of your binoculars. He will show you how to check if your binoculars have a diopter adjustment that allows for one eyepiece to be focused independently to account for differences between your two eyes. This will allow for the sharpest focus and best viewing.

Practice makes perfect

Quickly finding and focusing-in on a distant bird or animal takes some skill. In the video, Rob demonstrates how to practice finding stationary birds or animals, then following them as they move around, and finally helping others see these birds and animals.

Get to know what you see

Once you have dusted off, adjusted, and practiced using your binoculars, you can use a variety of good field guides to help you identify the Minnesota wildlife and plants you see. University of Minnesota Extension has short field guides featuring characteristic plants, animals, and geologic features of Minnesota's deciduous forests, coniferous forests and prairies available for purchase through the University of Minnesota Bookstores.

Nathan Meyer is the program leader for Extension's natural resources programs. He is based at the Extension Regional Office in Cloquet, MN.

Related topics: Natural Resources News
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